Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Sharon did next

Closing the café left me with a huge hole in my life. I've filled that hole by spending more time with family and friends, focusing more on my journalistic writing (something has to pay the bills!), relaxing and thinking about where I want my life to take me in the future. 

It sounds crazy but I actually still have a lot of time left over after doing all of that, which goes to show that running a café is a whole lot more work than anyone realises. It may also sound crazy to anyone who knows how burned out I was when the café closed that I still yearn to work with food, not just writing about food, but actually producing food for people to eat. 

This is why I've returned to Dingle Farmers' Market where I have a weekly stall selling baked goods every Friday from 9 am until 2 pm. I've been back since the beginning of May and have been experimenting with different flavours and options to suit my customers' tastes ever since. 

I've brought back old favourites that people loved when I last had my stall there three years ago and I've started introducing some gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free treats to cater for the growing number of people who are careful about what they eat for health or philosophical reasons (a growing number of people that now includes me).
It's been great to be back. I've re-engaged with old customers, met new ones, enjoyed the banter with fellow stall holders and I'm really appreciating once again doing something with food.

Here are some pictures I've taken of my cakes and my stall in the past few weeks, just to give you an idea of what I've been doing:

Chocolate cupcakes with a creamy peanut butter icing - these contain butter, chocolate and cream (all things I shouldn't eat) and I seriously struggle not to scoff the lot!
The most adorable marzipan bees to go on top of my spiced honey cupcakes
Dan Lepard's chocolate custard muffins topped with chocolate ganache - chocolate on chocolate; it's a classic!
Zingy with lemon and always a winner
No flour, no dairy yet oh-so deliciously good
My white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes are on the left at the back and they have once again proved to be my bestsellers. The mini cheesecakes and banoffee cupcakes are pretty popular too!

I have some questions for you before I bid you farewell today:

1: Based on your own experience of cake eating, what flavours and combinations would you like to see for sale at farmers' markets? I'd be particularly interested in hearing about options that are gluten, dairy and sugar free.

2: I'm also thinking of signing up with EatWith and hosting supper club evenings in my home. Do you think people would be interested in this? Being at the market is not really enough to satisfy my cravings to feed people while enjoying their company and I think this new concept could be just the thing for me. Has anyone tried it out before? Or do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A simple dish to make me better

I haven't been feeling all that strong lately. In fact, if I'm being truly honest, I've felt weak and unable to face the world and its challenges.
My health has been fine (thankfully) but I've taken a few emotional knocks and as a result, I've lost some of my zest for life. I've retreated into myself as I redefine who I am and what I want from what I know (deep down) is a wonderful world of opportunity all around me.

I turn to comfort food when I feel like this. Not comfort food as in chocolate; comfort food as in a bowl* of something nourishing that truly gives my body what it needs. Knowing that my physical body is being looked after allows me to divert my energies to improving my emotional and mental health.

This is food that makes me better.

Soba noodles with grilled salmon and spring onions in a ginger broth

Broth ingredients: (this will make much more than you need for one serving but lasts well for a few days in the fridge and freezes well too)

4 tablespoons freshly minced ginger
3 medium sized cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
2 litres of water or vegetable stock
3 to 4 tablespoons of soy sauce

Other ingredients:
150g fillet of salmon per person
3 spring onions
50g soba noodles per person 
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • Begin with the broth. Mince the ginger and chop the garlic and add to a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add a tablespoon of water to the ginger and garlic and stir for three to five minutes or until the ginger and garlic have softened but haven't yet changed in colour. Add another tablespoon of water if needs be to prevent the mixture sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the water or vegetable stock if using and bring to the boil.
  • Simmer for five minutes and then add your soy sauce. Taste and add more soy if necessary.
  • Set aside
  • Heat your grill to medium. Season your salmon with salt and cook underneath the grill for six minutes on either side.
  • Boil some water and cook your noodles according to the instructions on the pack.
  • Peel the outer layer from the spring onions and cut into 4cm lengths. Then cut in four lengthwise.
  • Drain your noodles once cooked and coat in the sesame oil.
  • Place these at the bottom of the bowl. Place the salmon fillet on top. Pour over the ginger broth and garnish with spring onions. 
*In a complete aside: don't you agree that for food to be truly comforting, it should always be served in a bowl? Why is that, I wonder.  

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Monday, June 16, 2014

A recipe for a super summery soup

The first time I made soup at home after closing the café, I made enough to feed 20 people. It wasn't until I was halfway through chopping the vegetables that I realised I was still in mass catering mode and had made far too much for my two-person household.

But what first appeared to be a mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I froze the leftover soup in two-serving batches and for the next few weeks, I always had a ready answer to sudden pangs of hunger.

Now I always over cater when it comes to soup.  I may not make enough for 20 people but I always make enough for at least ten. It doesn't really involve that much more effort and knowing that you've got something delicious, homemade and easy in the freezer more than makes up for any extra chopping involved in the preparation process.

Here's what you'll need to make ten servings of a tomato-based minestrone soup 

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, chopped
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 large carrots, diced
6 celery stalks, diced
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 litres vegetable stock
2 courgettes, chopped
200g frozen peas
1 tin (400g) cooked cannellini beans 
50g dried macaroni or other smaller-shaped pasta
Salt and pepper (how much you will need depends on the seasoning of your stock but provided the stock is not too salty, you'll need at least one teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper)
  • Heat the oil over a low heat and add the garlic, onions, carrots and celery.
  • Cook gently for ten minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil.
  • Simmer for an hour.
  • Add the chopped courgettes, peas, beans and pasta and cook for another ten minutes or until the pasta is cooked through.
  • Season with the salt and pepper.

This soup makes a warm, filling and yet not too heavy way to end a sunny summer's day - which is exactly what we've got in Dingle today (and we're all crossing our fingers that the good weather is here to stay).

I hope the sun is shining wherever you are and that you are eating the most delicious of summery food.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The return of lie-ins and lazy breakfasts

One of the things I missed most when I was working in the café was long, leisurely weekend breakfasts. There is little that I love as much as starting a weekend day with a multi-coursed breakfast. In my case, it usually includes nut-filled muesli with some chopped banana, berries and nut milk; something egg-y; toasted bread with almond butter and honey; and lots of green tea.

I've been going through a mourning period for the café lately. Someone else opened a new café there last month and I've found myself envying them the incomparable excitement of creating a space that is all about welcoming people and giving them good things to eat and drink.
But whenever I've found myself hankering for the café too much, I remind myself of all I have gained by leaving it behind and that includes my new-found appreciation of weekend breakfasts...

I've been experimenting with different breakfast dishes these past few weeks and this is a simple one I've made and enjoyed on several occasions now.

Ingredients (serves four people or two especially hungry ones)
250 grams fresh spinach leaves 
4 slices of smoked salmon
4 best-quality eggs*
1/4 teaspoon salt 

You will also need ramekins or a muffin tin

  • Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Sprinkle the salt over the spinach and cook in your preferred way. I cook mine in a steamer over boiling water for seven minutes or until wilted.
  • Let the spinach cool a little and once you can handle it, use your hands to squeeze out all excess water.
  • Divide the spinach between your four ramekins or four sections of your muffin tray.
  • Lay the smoked salmon on top.

  • Break an egg into each of the four ramekins or sections of the muffin tray, on top of the spinach and salmon.
  • Cook in the oven for ten to twelve minutes or until set.
  • Use a knife to cut the egg away from the edges of the ramekin or muffin tin.
  • Lift the egg-y muffin out of the tin using a dessert spoon (you don't want to break that runny yolk just yet) and place on a slice of warm toast.
  • Dig deliciously in.
*Anyone following the OMS (Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis) diet will have been advised to avoid eggs as they contain up to 8g of saturated fat per egg - which is a lot when you're supposed to keep your saturated fat intake below 10g a day and never exceed 20g. However, I have realised that eggs are the foods I miss most when following this diet (much more than chocolate, to my eternal surprise) and so on the days when I have an egg, I make sure I don't eat anything else that contains a significant amount of saturated fat. Eggs offer so much nutritional goodness - especially if they come from free-range hens that are allowed to roam and eat as they please - that I feel justified in eating them once or twice a week. Anyway, my luxurious weekend mornings simply wouldn't be the same without them!

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Monday, June 2, 2014

So that was May...

Is May really over already? I don't know about you but my year seems to be gaining speed as it whizzes past and an entire month appears to have gone by in a flash.

Perhaps it's because I'm getting busier. Like most people in Dingle (and others who live in seasonal tourist towns), summer is one of my busiest times of year and each week is noticeably more hectic than the last.

So, what were the best things about the month that just passed? 

One of the very best was the wonderful Ballymaloe Literary Food Festival. The speakers, chefs and food enthusiasts at this festival delved into the many different aspects that make food such an endlessly interesting topic of conversation. There was the political implications of large corporations controlling much of the world's food supply, the sense of national identity bound up with food traditions, the growing understanding of nutrition and the simple appreciation of food cooked by people who care - it was all there and it was all inspiring.

Another good thing was my return to Dingle Farmers' Market. This takes place every Friday from 9am until 2pm and it features a selection of stalls selling everything from locally-grown vegetables and salads to artisan breads; local honey; fantastic eggs fresh from the farm; handmade chocolates and fudge; olives; patés; cheeses; pickled locally-foraged seaweeds; crumbly pies filled with the likes of beef and Guinness or vegetables and lentils; freshly squeezed juices; jams and preserves; and my cakes. 
Because of my diet, I have expanded my selection of cakes to include gluten-, dairy- and sugar-free varieties and so far, they are proving to be a big hit.
Do call by to see me if ever you're in Dingle on a Friday.

Now that I no longer have the café, I have much more time to cook and experiment with new recipes. Three that I'll definitely be sharing with you in the weeks to come are a brunch-time treat of baked eggs, a Thai-scented broth with cod and prawns and a Japanese-inspired ginger broth served with soba noodles and salmon. The very idea of that ginger broth has just got me so excited that I think it has to be my next blog post.

Finally, I've been eating a lot of this brand of tuna, pictured here in my fridge.
It's (much) more expensive than the canned variety but tastes infinitely better. Its only ingredients are tuna and olive oil and it always smacks of freshness and health. It's super convenient too and I had it for lunch with a baked potato and an Asian red cabbage coleslaw several times in May. To be honest, I'll probably have it several times in June too but it's so good that I'm not complaining.

What about you?  What were the good things that happened to you in May?
As always, I'd love to hear from you.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

It's simple. It's seasonal. It's salad.

Sometimes all you want is something simple. 
Something fresh.
Something that has clean and contrasting flavours and textures.
Something like this seasonal salad.

Chicory, apple and walnut salad with an apple cider vinegar dressing
Serves one as a main or two as a side dish

1 head chicory, cut into 1cm slices
1/2 apple, cored and thinly sliced (I prefer something sweet yet sharp such as the Granny Smith variety)
1/3 cup or 30g walnuts 

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon runny honey
A small pinch of salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons walnut oil

  • Place the mustard, honey and salt in a jam jar and mix together with a fork or small whisk.
  • Add the vinegar and oil. Put the lid on the jar and shake until the dressing has combined.
  • Core and slice the apple and place in a salad bowl.
  • Cut the chicory into 1cm wide slices and add to the bowl.
  • Crumble the walnuts on top of the apple and chicory.
  • Toss these ingredients with half of the dressing. You can add more at the table or save what is left over for another seasonal salad.


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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine: food for thought, food for the soul and lots and lots of food to eat

I'm so sorry to have been missing in action for the past while. I had the enormous pleasure (and privilege) of attending Ballymaloe Literary Festival last weekend and have been playing catch up (and recovering!) ever since.

The festival was a wonderful celebration of all that is good about food. It featured illustrious chefs such as René Redzepi, Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamini, Simon Hopkinson and the awe-inspiring Diana Kennedy. Food writers including Tom Parker Bowles, Joanna Blythman and John McKenna featured too as did food activist and fermentation expert Sandor Katz and food producers from all over Ireland such as the Diva BakerySilver Darling herrings and the Ferguson family with their Gubbeen cheeses, meats and more.

Food journalist Joanna Blythman
The doyenne of Mexican food and an inspiration to us all: Diana Kennedy
And that's just to list very few of the many inspiring people and personalities that played a part in what proved to be a very special weekend...

The highlights for me were:
1: Attending the Sunday morning talk with Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamini and Ariana Bundy. Sometimes people complicate food too much, focussing overly on the nutritional aspect and what's good for you and what isn't or on creating a fine dining experience that is far removed from the simple pleasure of eating food.
Not these three. For an hour and a half on Sunday morning, they spoke warmly about what food means to them, how it connects them to their families and where they come from, how much they love eating and the joy they take in cooking for others. 
They reminded me of why I decided to open my own café and inspired me to continue my journey in food - wherever it takes me next.

2: A Sunday lunch in Ballymaloe House cooked by Rowley Leigh. The ajo blanco (almond and garlic) soup served with melon balls is the best thing I've tasted this year and I can't imagine anything beating its fresh and exciting flavours.

3: Bringing a smile to Simon Hopkinson's face when I told him that his were the recipes I trusted above all others. (I've never cooked a recipe of his that didn't exceed expectations and was pleased to get the chance to tell him so.)
4: Meeting so many wonderful people and creating new connections in the ever growing and always exciting world of food in Ireland.

See you next year, Ballymaloe, I'll definitely be back!

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